State of the State: Governor tackles minimum wage, land issues

Published On: Jan 21 2014 07:32:48 PM HST   Updated On: Jan 21 2014 07:57:41 PM HST

In his fourth State of the State speech to a joint session of the legislature, Gov. Neil Abercrombie proposed an increase to Hawaii's minimum wage, while also asking for support in setting aside more than 20,600 acres of land on the North Shore and Central Oahu.

Click here to watch Andrew Pereira's story.

Abercrombie said 85 percent of minimum wage workers who make $7.25 per hour are over the age of 21 and have gone seven years without seeing an increase in their earnings. The governor proposed increasing the minimum wage by at least $1.50 to $8.75 per hour.

"Currently, 21 other states plus the District of Columbia have higher minimum wage rates than Hawaii while our minimum wage earners are confronted by much higher living costs," the governor told lawmakers.

Abercrombie's minimum wage proposal failed last year after lawmakers failed to reach an accord on how much to increase the 25 cent tip credit. That's the amount businesses deduct every hour from those who earn tips.

However, another stumbling block to the governor's plan could be the business lobby. The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii said any increase to the minimum wage needs to be "a measured and reasonable amount" because of other dictates on business.

"The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii cannot support the current bills that we have reviewed so far, which have sharp increases that many small businesses cannot afford to absorb so quickly, especially with other mandated costs increasing," read the statement from the chamber.

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim believes the chamber's concerns need to be considered, as well as possible job losses that may come with any increase to the minimum wage.

"Well, certainly there will be that happening as we can see across the country," said Kim, "but hopefully things do even out."

During the past legislative session, the House and Senate had proposed gradually increasing the minimum wage to $9.25 per hour over three years, but were bogged down by the tip credit.

Meanwhile, Abercrombie told lawmakers it's time to preserve more than 600 acres of open space at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's North Shore. The governor said this could be achieved through the sale of general obligation bonds, and later told reporters negotiations with Turtle Bay are going well.

Abercrombie also laid out a plan to set aside nearly 20,000 acres of land between Wahiawa and the North Shore that's currently owned by the Dole Food Company. The governor envisions working with a renewable energy company to purchase the land, which could lead to more wind turbines in the area as well as innovative farming.

"I think there are some areas out there where the capability to produce real energy here, keep dollars here and jobs here, seems pretty high," the governor told reporters. "If at the same time that creates a capacity to create entrepreneurial agriculture … that would be terrific."

However, there's already been some pushback from Kahuku residents to a proposed 24 megawatt wind farm by the California-based company Champlin. The project would add 14 turbines to the 12 First Wind turbines already in the area.

Kim says residents should have a say as to what type of renewable energy project is proposed for the 20,000 acres, and that may not necessarily be wind power.

"While we may want to preserve some of this land, what are we preserving it for," said Kim. "Are we going to be preserving it to put on these huge turbines?" 


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